By Barry 'Bear' Siragusa
We houndsmen can be an ornery lot. Like our intact male hounds, we can be grumbly, can posture, and (figuratively) see who is marking farthest up the pee tree. For every question asked, you will get as many answers as there are houndsmen. Every breed has its diehards that would never dream of running another breed of hound. Just about every houndsmen has a breed they would rather quit hunting –or die– than have to run.
I, at least, spend so much time alone with my hounds that when it is time to socialize ourselves and get out amongst our canine and human peers, my most maladjusted young dog sometimes behaves a shade better than I do! The Corona pandemic and all the restrictions inflicted on us made me even more anti-social, and I'm not alone in that. I once saw two houndsmen come to blows over which of their dogs was responsible for instigating a deer race (honestly it was neither, as both were so far off the pace that they couldn't have caught up to a beagle with a cinderblock tied around its collar).
Usually, being slightly antisocial is not more than an annoyance and mild social handicap. Where it becomes a major problem is not at tailgate or drinking too much around the campfire—although a suddenly combusting houndsmen does liven up the party—but major problems start when the anti-hound hunting folks come after us and we are so prickly and irritated with each other that we can't muster ourselves to stand united to protect our lifestyle. When our different opinions around breed preferences, color, game, dog food brands, and podcast preferences get in the way of our ability to stand together, then we have a collective problem.
I think it is easy to overestimate the number of people who are vehemently against hound hunting. My experience has been that most people who would say they were against hound hunting don't actually know much about it and, therefore, aren't impossible to sway. Our tolerance for the people on the fence should, ideally, be infinite until they choose a side. Ridiculing, name calling, and trolling on social media in no way helps our cause. Lashing out definitely gives vent to pent up frustration, but calling someone stupid for not having the same knowledge that we do is not only foolish but directly counterproductive. We live in a world where “facts” and “rights” are decided by public and popular opinions. Houndsmen need to be more patient, well-spoken, accommodating to questions, and more welcoming to the people who don't know enough about our lifestyle. I can make someone hate me in two seconds; it takes no effort. Coaxing someone to want to learn more about me and what I do is much harder, but infinitely more rewarding. It’s so important to make allies instead of adversaries.
We hound hunters have an image problem, and the only people who can change that is us. People like Clay Newcomb, Janis Putelis, Kolby Morehead, Becky Dwire, Jason Duby, and Seth Hall make an effort to introduce skeptics to our lifestyle and persuade them that we are not all Disney villains, swigging from a jug with XXX written on the side while our dogs run Bambi's mom. Houndsmen and advocates like the above mentioned make people take pause—people who wouldn't usually give us a chance.
Long live those amongst us who take control of the narrative! These folks are well-spoken, blunt, direct, funny as a mule in a party hat, and passionate. They do more for us, and for ensuring the next generation can still drop their tailgates, than I think we realize. There are some great clubs, associations, and organizations that have been at the forefront of the fight to protect our rights, opportunities, and freedoms as houndsmen. The Michigan Bear Hunters Association is a classic example of good folks fighting for the benefit of us all. I would love to see the same spirit of camaraderie in the hound hunting community as a whole.
So what about the Bear Siragusa's of the hound world? The slightly grumbly, hound hair covered, vaguely smelly, boots-on-the-ground types? What can we do to help? I reckon that if I can raise my sons to be humble, polite, and firm in their beliefs, that is a good start. For that to happen, I need to show them by example how to handle the uninformed and ignorant of the world. If I fly off the handle every time I meet misinformation and don't take the time to answer questions, then I am not being a good example. It can be tough. I don't mean to brag, but I am an expert at profanity-laced rants. I like to play to my strengths, so it takes a lot of effort not to rant incoherently!
Social media has made it so easy to communicate with each other, and I would love to see that used more and more as a tool for positive change and fostering solidarity: extending seasons, fighting restrictions, welcoming newcomers, and standing together as a united front protecting this lifestyle for future generations. We don't own this lifestyle, it owns us. It's just our turn. Let's make the effort to leave it on better footing than we find it now.